Human Echolocation Is The Most Under-appreciated Thing

BLOG POST FOR MARCH WEEK 1

In my AP Lang class we recently started learning about synthesis essays and the topic has lead us to find various articles and sources on a topic of our choosing. Inspired by a fascinating NPR This American Life episode I listened to with my dad a couple of weeks ago, I decided to make my topic human echolocation. It is such an amazing phenomenon of the human brain and makes me marvel at our species just that much more.

The NPR episode features Daniel Kish, a blind man who honed the skill of echo-locating from an early age and is able to live his life in a way that is entirely comparable to the way of a sighted person because of the clicks he makes to inform himself of his surroundings. When Kish, and other echolocators, employ clicks they are able to create a mental image based on the information they gather – attributes of objects that include distance, movement, texture, material, and size. This mental image is comparable to our peripheral vision, resulting in the possible conclusion that humans can see without eyes. The episode can be found here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/544/batman and I highly recommend listening to it if this is a topic that interests you.

Not only is Daniel Kish’s story entirely fascinating, but the neurological aspect of human echolocation is as well. In delving into the topic for my synthesis essay I found a scholarly article on the neurological activity behind it. One study found that when a blind person is echolocating it is the calcarine, or visual, cortex of their brain that is engaged in the activity, rather than the auditory. This points towards two different theories, both equally amazing. One is that echolocation is almost like a sixth sense, not entirely related to hearing or sight. The calcarine cortex has the ability to perceive senses through both echolocation and sight but because the average human doesn’t use echolocation very much, this cortex ends up being used entirely for sight. The other theory is that the functions of brain cortices are able to shift and adapt for each individual person, finding a new purpose for the calcarine cortex when an individual cannot use it for sight.

This entire world of echolocation in humans is still quite unknown and under-appreciated but I believe that it has the ability to make some major changes in the way we think about senses, the way we perceive parts of our world, and the lives of blind people. I can’t wait to learn more.

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